William Jennings Bryan, flanked by aides, approached the podium at the 1896 Democratic convention to accept his party’s nomination for president of the United States and muttered under his breath, “I wish God would strike me dead rather than have to give this speech.” This from the man who would be considered one of the greatest American orators of history. In his Book of Lists, writer and researcher Irving Wallace reports that the American public’s number-one fear is speaking before an audience. Stage fright is normal in public speaking. It strikes everyone, famous or not. The difference lies in how we deal with it.
Former Vice President Alden W. Barkley died while giving a speech. He is probably the first person ever to die while speaking in public. Even though your knees knock, your heart races, your palms get sweaty, your mouth feels like cotton and your blood pressure goes up, public speaking is safe. The odds are dramatically in your favor that you will survive the speech.
Toastmasters International says public speaking does not involve eliminating butterflies in your stomach, but simply getting them to fly in formation.
To be a successful public speaker, you must be able to answer the following questions:1. Who is your audience? 2. What does the audience want most? 3. How can you help get what they want?
The underlying consideration in all public speaking should be time: your time and that of your listeners. First impressions are important. After just a few words, an image is formed in the mind. Get your point across swiftly and succinctly. No matter how interesting your topic, nobody likes to be subjected to a long-winded speaker. Even if this weren’t the case, the attention span of the average individual is only about 20 minutes.
To be a successful public speaker:1. Tell the audience what you are going to say. 2. Say it. 3. Tell them what you said.
The purpose is primary
The first principle of public speaking is to have a clear-cut objective. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had an objective, a purpose. It was to get back home to Kansas. She knew what she wanted. Your speech has to have a purpose. What is the point of the speech? Opportunities are wasted when people have unclear or mixed objectives.
The purpose of every speech falls into one of these five categories:1. To entertain. 2. To inform. 3. To inspire. 4. To convince. 5. To persuade.
Organize and arrange
Every speech comes in three parts: the introduction, the body and the conclusion.
1. The introduction is a “hook” to attract interest. Your hook should relate to your listeners as well as your purpose. The introduction can be a question or a statement. It can be dramatic or humorous. If it’s a question, it should be answered. Anecdotes and personal experiences make great hooks as long as they appeal to a broad audience. The introduction serves two other purposes. It tells the audience the benefit of listening to the rest of your talk, and it previews what will come.
2. From the introduction, you move to the body of your remarks—the subject. The subject explains and reinforces your objective. The subject must relate to the listeners. What, who, where, when, why and how are all part of your subject. Know your subject and present it as concisely and forcefully as possible.
Remember that in verbal communication there are no second chances for the audience to catch your remarks. Keep your talk simple and easy to understand. Effective speeches contain no more than three central points. Four points is an absolute maximum. More will confuse the audience and waste their time—and yours.
Arrange the main points of your talk into a pattern, such as:
• Time order. • Space order. • Classification order. • Cause and effect order. • Problem and solution order.
Each of your main points should be supported by interesting and relevant material, such as illustrations, comparisons and contrasts, specific instances, facts and figures, etc. Develop each main point in such a way that the audience will accept it. If they are predisposed to acceptance, your goal is simply to be vivid, impressive and dynamic. The audience doesn’t need to be hit over the head with arguments. They are already impressed. They already agree with you.
If the audience is doubtful, be informative. The doubtful audience is looking for information, not memories and quotations. Give them what they’re looking for. If the audience is indifferent, use facts. Be compelling and conciliatory. Appeal to their basic wants and needs. Appeal to their open-mindedness and fair play. Don’t be argumentative. If the audience is indifferent, impel them by motivation. Show why your idea is important. Make the issue vital to the listener’s needs. Give specific comparisons and illustrations.
3. The conclusion of your speech is used as a review. Highlight the key points you want your audience to remember. The listener should leave feeling interested, informed, stimulated, persuaded or convinced after listening to you talk. Your audience should feel rewarded for listening to you. Ask them to act or react to your ideas. A message without a specific request is a wasted opportunity. Move them to action. Call for a specific decision within a specific time frame. A courteous “thank you” is a poor way to end a speech.
Although it is still certain that the status, position and occupation of your listeners influences the slant of your remarks, don’t talk down to your audience. Don’t talk up either. It won’t gain you favor. Flattery is transparent. No matter who the person is or what she does, it is far better to talk with her. This is especially true when you want to gain influence. Take into consideration the varying backgrounds of your audience. Whether it is one person or 1,000, the same basic principles and strategies of the message apply.
Don’t memorize your speech. If you do not memorize it perfectly, you will stumble, or worse, forget. Even if it is well-memorized, you have to recall each word as it comes. This preoccupation makes your words sound rehearsed, cold and lifeless instead of spontaneous, warm and earnest.
Don’t read your speech, however. When you stand before an audience and fix your eyes on a manuscript, you lose personal contact. This is fatal to your message. Instead, write a rough draft of your speech, and then reduce it to notes on 3 x 5 cards. Rehearse your speech striving for spontaneity, variety and naturalness in your words and movements. Memorize your sequence of ideas. Then rehearse the speech formally five to 10 times. This helps you develop a delivery that allows for the right amount of spontaneity. Use the note cards to carry your sequence of major ideas. Do not write the speech out word for word.
Rehearse your speech. You will give the speech standing up. Therefore, rehearse standing up. Rehearse your posture. Rehearse your actions. If possible, rehearse in a room the same size as the room you will speak in. After you have given several speeches, you will learn how many rehearsals you need for a successful speech.
Successful speaking is a skill just like walking or riding a bicycle. It takes time, training and practice, practice, practice.